Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Na Hong-jin
Stars: Do Won Kwak, Jun Kunimara, Kim Hwan-hee, Jeong-sun Kwang.
Korean filmmakers have produced some of the tougher, more brutal horror films of recent years, from Old Boy through to Snowpiercer. One of the rising stars of Korean cinema is director Na Hong-jin, who makes tough thrillers like The Yellow Sea, etc. His latest film is no exception. The Wailing is a gory, blood soaked and often very violent horror film about obsession, possession, exorcism and the supernatural.
The Wailing (or Goksung) is set in Goksung, a small isolated village in South Korea. A Japanese stranger (Jun Kunimara) arrives in town and is immediately regarded with suspicion. Soon afterwards a mysterious illness erupts causing a nasty skin condition and outbreaks of violent behaviour, and it quickly spreads throughout the villagers. Local police officer Jong-goo (Do Won Kwak) is desperate to solve the riddle of the mysterious sickness, and initially it is believed to have been caused by some toxic mushrooms. Eventually though suspicion falls on the mysterious stranger, and there are attempts to punish him and drive him out of town.
Meanwhile Jong-goo’s young daughter (Kim Hwan-hee) falls sick, turning violent and swearing up a storm that would make even Linda Blair’s character blush. In desperation he turns to a local shaman (Jeong-sun Kwang) to try and cure her.
But that is only the beginning of the village’s troubles, as Jong-goo and a number of villagers try to drive the old Japanese stranger out of town before more misery befalls it.
Hong-jin slowly builds up the tension and an uncomfortable atmosphere permeates the material before it all goes gonzo. There are zombies, ghosts and supernatural happenings galore, and even a bit of projectile vomiting. The film is structured a bit like a puzzle with some frenetic editing that makes the audience work to put the pieces together, but Hong-jin adds some haunting imagery and a foreboding atmosphere that gradually unsettle the audience. The intensity of the exorcism scene rivals that of the 70s horror classic The Exorcist, and the accompanying percussive score adds to the tension and air of madness.
The film looks good with cinematographer Hong Kyung-pyo (Mother, Snowpiercer, etc)creating some superb and atmospheric visuals. The dingy, rain soaked village is also the perfect setting for this unsettling slow descent into madness and chaos. The film is also an examination of the battle between science and reason and religion and superstition. But there are also occasional moments of slapstick humour that temporarily alleviate the tension, especially in some early comical scenes featuring the buffoonish Jong-goo and his equally hapless offsider.
This is a slowburn horror film with a great build up of tension and an uncomfortable atmosphere, although its 156 minute running time may test the patience and stamina of many filmgoers.